mademoiselle-red asked: It seems to me from (high school history class) that medieval European society was intolerant of differences. Any difference from the majority were frowned upon. How did nonPOCs in medieval Europe view POCs, who were in the minority in terms of skin color being different from the majority of their neighbors? Did they 1) perceive that there was a difference? 2) did they believe pigmentation made someone "other", or was it insignificant, as inconsequential as having a different hair color?
Uh. I’m not even sure how to answer a question framed this way. I choose 3) Medieval European society spans about a thousand years and an entire continent (albeit a smallish one, you know, for a continent) so any answer given to this would be both right and wrong simultaneously. The wording is really confusing, and I don’t really understand why “did they perceive a difference?” would be an option.
I will definitely differ from the idea that “any difference was frowned upon”. That’s not true at all. Medieval Europeans often thought someone who was very different was exciting and cool, like, as long as they didn’t constitute some kind of obvious threat or belong to a group considered at odds with or a threat to the dominant culture of that particular place or time. Really intense antipathy was mostly reserved for familiar-difference type stuff, like oppression and persecution of Jewish people, Roma/Romany, et cet. Also, The Crusades were a thing.
I express my condolences for your high school history class. And like, of course they perceived human difference, but…the way it was perceived and the differences that were seen as significant varied a lot. To generalize, the really important differences would have been religion, gender, and social class/financial status, with some variance for ability/disability status. Ethnicity would have variously been an important difference or grouping which intersects with religion, and eventually a sort of proto-nationality type thing.
The bottom line is, we can never really know, because if someone wasn’t perceived as “Other” they weren’t depicted that way in art, or described that way in literature or records. I mean, we are talking about an era during which representational art of non-religious human figures just kind of disappeared and reappeared with cultural and social fluctuations in the area(s).
Additionally, there were places during this era that just didn’t make images of people at all, for the most part. Hence people asking me for images of people of color in Viking art, and I’m just like….uh….
A lot of the research going on in that direction is more like, “this is probably a human face”.
Now, there are those who take this kind of representation as evidence of racial homogeneity and isolation (a.k.a. Vikings never saw people of color), which I think is ridiculous, because Vikings. And then there are those like me who think that this is because Vikings (an extremely general term, really) didn’t place much importance on human features we would consider “racial” nowadays, or maybe they did and just didn’t care about drawing realistic looking people.
Anyhow, I just picked something at random to try and ground the conversation, but really I could just wave my arms around and yell “history!” and feel like I was answering that question, too.
If it helps, in support of your point, in late medieval England there were stories and art all over the island with PoC of colour in them, as well as people of African decent in London and likely most major port cities, but this tends to be handled in a matter of fact descriptive way. So and so was a “Moor” or had “a dark complexion” etc., but I haven’t seen any examples that look like modern racist language before the 16th century. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t any, but the mentions I’ve seen tend to be fairly neutral.
At the same time there was very anti-Semitic language and the expulsion of Jews under Edward I. The seizure of their goods filled Edward’s treasury and funded his wars, so there is argument about how much was propaganda intending to justify the persecution and how much was heartfelt by those spreading it. I’m of the opinion it was both, but it’s unprovable barring the finding of a letter or manuscript clarifying things.
There are also variety of vernacular songs and texts talking about the “Flemish” in terms that are very offensive and would read as racist if the writers/singers and the people they are mocking/attacking weren’t from populations that looked pretty much the same. There were also laws strictly limiting travel and residency for the Flemish (and likely the Dutch and other Northern European foreigners, who often got lumped in with the Flemish for reasons that had to do with trade routes and the tendency for monolingual commoners in England not clearly distinguishing vaguely Germanic type languages and people from each other). These laws did not apply to native born folks with darker skin, but were very clearly aimed at people who were not English or French speakers. (The nobles being French speaking at the time and at England having territory in France to varying degrees in the late middle ages).
There was clearly Othering going on, but I agree that the manifestation was focused in a way that is really different from the way it is in the modern USA.